Each Monday in April, Bourbon and Barns will work with the Kentucky Derby Museum and others to provide insight into the Derby's distinct history, character and charm. This week: Mint Juleps. Next week: Churchill Downs. Learn more about the Kentucky Derby Museum at www.derbymuseum.org.
The mint julep, a bourbon and mint cocktail, is the drink most closely associated with the Kentucky Derby. The Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby is the mint julep made with Old Forester bourbon, while the Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby is Woodford Reserve. According to Churchill Downs, the derby annually serves 120,000 mint juleps, requiring 10,000 bottles of Old Forester Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.
Each year, Woodford Reserve has a special $1,000 mint julep cup in which purchasers receive access to their private tent (with a British theme) and special mint juleps. Proceeds from these purchases benefit a charity each year. This year's designated charity is the Kentucky Derby Museum.
Bourbon and Barns recently caught up with Chris Goodlett, Senior Curator of Collections at the Kentucky Derby Museum, and Chris Morris, Master Distiller at Woodford Reserve, to learn more about the derby's iconic drink.
Bourbon and Barns: It seems logical that the drink most associated with the Kentucky Derby would be made with Kentucky's distinctive spirit, bourbon. When did the mint julep first become popular at the Kentucky Derby?
Chris Goodlett: The Mint Julep is said to have been adopted by genteel Kentucky society in the 19th century. The tradition of sipping mint juleps migrated westward to Kentucky (from Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia) in the early 19th century. In 1816, the Kentucky Gazette mentioned mint julep cups being awarded as prizes at horse races in the Commonwealth. It’s unclear when bourbon was first used in juleps, but by the early 1800s, many Kentucky farmers owned stills, which they used to make corn whiskey, or what is now called bourbon. Later, bourbon became the preferred sprit in mint juleps everywhere. Legend has it that mint was planted outside the clubhouse of Churchill Downs in Louisville so that mint juleps could be served at the first Kentucky Derby, in 1875. Supposedly, Derby found Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. served one to Polish actress Helena Modjeska in 1877.
BB: We also spoke with Chris Morris, Woodford Reserve's Master Distiller, about the distillery's role as the Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. Here's Chris:
BB: When did Woodford Reserve become the Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby?
Chris Morris: Woodford Reserve has held the title of “Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby” since 1999.
BB: What exactly does it mean that Woodford Reserve is the Official Bourbon?
CM: Woodford Reserve is the Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby through its sponsorship with Churchill Downs. Any Churchill Downs attendee wishing to purchase a craft mint julep will receive one made with Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon. To celebrate our title as "Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby" we have numerous activations at the track. One of which being our $1,000 Mint Julep Cup program which consists of a specialty julep cup served with a handcrafted cocktail at the race, benefiting a charity. Additionally we have the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic - the undercard for the Kentucky Derby and a Grade I stakes race which holds a purse of $500,000 and is 1 1/8 mile for three-year-olds and up. 2017 marks the 30th running of the Turf Classic which became the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic in 1999.
BB: Woodford Reserve has offered some special mint juleps for $1,000 or more with proceeds benefiting a charity. How did this program begin? Are these drinks made differently than other mint juleps? Do they come with special cups?
CM: In the program’s inaugural year, there was an industry trend among high profile bars to create a one of a kind cocktail with a higher price-tag. This trend inspired the development of the $1,000 Mint Julep Cup program.
Every year, the $1,000 Mint Julep Cups feature a unique, handcrafted Cup design and a one-of a kind mint julep recipe with net proceeds from the Cup benefiting a charity. There is a silver Cup with gold accents for $1,000 and a gold-plated Cup with sterling silver accents for $2,500. Cup patrons pick up their cups on Derby Day at Churchill Downs at the Woodford Reserve $1,000 Mint Julep Cup tent available exclusively for cup buyers. The 2017 Cup design, recipe and charity will be unveiled on April 10.
BB: Does Woodford Reserve produce any special bottles with unique labels for the Kentucky Derby?
CM: Since 1999, Woodford Reserve has honored the “Run for the Roses”™ with the release of its Kentucky Derby commemorative bottle. For the second consecutive year, the 2017 limited-edition Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby bottle features artwork from award-winning equine artist Thomas Allen Pauly. A Chicago native, Pauly is a world-renowned equine painter and is the Official Artist of American Pharoah – Triple Crown Winner. His painting “Inspired” is featured on the front of the Woodford Reserve bottle. The image on the bottle features an elevated view as the thoroughbreds race to the finish line during the renowned Kentucky Derby. Additionally, a glimpse of the Twin Spires™ and colorful audience fitting the grandstand can be seen. The neck band features vibrant green and Woodford Reserve’s signature copper color with the Kentucky Derby 143 date and Thomas Allen Pauly’s signature sealing the top of the bottle. A hang tag provides details about the product and the artist. Click here for a link to the 2017 Derby bottle image.
BB: Here are some links to learn more about mint juleps and the Kentucky Derby: